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Middle East (Israel/Palestine) Open Debate

Tomorrow (24 July), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is expected to brief via video-teleconference.

The need to de-escalate tensions over Gaza will most likely be the focus of the discussion tomorrow. The intermittent violence between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza has been a significant cause of concern for the Council since Palestinians began protesting along the Gaza fence on 30 March. Earlier today, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein noted that: “On two occasions in the past two weeks, we have seen the heaviest exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and armed groups in Gaza since the 2014 escalation of hostilities.” During the 14-15 July weekend, the Israeli air force and Palestinian militants launched attacks across the Gaza-Israel border; as a result of these strikes, two Palestinians were killed, while three Israelis and more than 30 Palestinians were injured. The most recent round of violence occurred on 20 July, with Israel conducting sustained bombardments of Hamas facilities in Gaza that resulted in the deaths of four Palestinians. This attack followed the fatal shooting of an Israeli soldier by a Palestinian sniper near the Gaza fence.

While UN and Egyptian mediation efforts have led to a ceasefire this weekend, UN officials have continued to emphasise that such episodic fighting has the potential to deteriorate into a full-scale conflict. In a 21 July statement, Secretary-General António Guterres urged the parties to “step back from the brink of another devastating conflict”. He further “call[ed] on Hamas and other Palestinian militants to cease the launching of rockets and incendiary kites and provocations along the fence”, while declaring that “Israel must exercise restraint to avoid further inflaming the situation”. In tomorrow’s debate, Mladenov is likely to echo the Secretary-General’s call on the parties to de-escalate the situation to avoid the outbreak of another Gaza war. The most recent Gaza conflict occurred in July-August 2014.

Mladenov is also expected to brief on efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and promote economic development in Gaza. He may note the importance of international assistance in helping to improve the welfare of Gazans, especially in light of the funding deficit facing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Mladenov may further discuss recent activities of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), the international mechanism responsible for coordinating development assistance to Palestinians. In his 23 May briefing (S/PV.8265) to the Council, Mladenov underscored the role that the AHLC could play in implementing projects aimed at creating a better future for Gazans.

Familiar narratives are likely to be reiterated regarding the recent rise in tensions over Gaza. On the one hand, some Council members will most likely accuse Israel of violently repressing dissent in Gaza and for pursuing policies that oppress Palestinians. On the other hand, the US in particular is expected to underscore that Hamas and other Palestinian militants are responsible for the current hardship in Gaza. Most Council members will express positions somewhere in between.

Concerns may be expressed by Mladenov and several member states about Israel’s plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village of over 170 people on the West Bank, and relocate its residents. The decision to carry out the demolition has been delayed after inhabitants of the village submitted two petitions to the Israeli High Court of Justice, which are expected to be heard by 15 August. This follows a 24 May decision by the Court that would have allowed the demolition to go ahead. Mladenov has already tweeted that these activities would be “contrary to international law and undermine the two state solution.” The EU similarly criticised the planned demolition of the village on 4 July, also citing concerns about envisioned “new settlement construction for Israelis in the same area.”

Another issue that may be raised in tomorrow’s meeting is the partial closing of the Kerem Shalom border crossing on the Israel-Gaza border. Israel says that it has imposed restrictions on the flow of various goods in response to incendiary kites and balloons released in Gaza that have damaged property in Israel. On 17 July, OCHA expressed concern that restrictions on the import of fuel will have a negative impact “on the provision of critical health, water and sanitation services in Gaza”. Mladenov may encourage Israel to remove these restrictions, if it has not already done so by tomorrow; on 22 July (Sunday), Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman indicated that if the ceasefire were not violated for two more days, Israel would “resume routine activity” at the crossing.

Among other issues likely to be reiterated tomorrow by Mladenov and member states are the need for Israel to cease settlement activities, the need for both parties to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric, and the importance of pursuing the two-state solution.

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